A large-scale health study in the UK has found that gay and bisexual men are neglected and discriminated against by the NHS, which, rather than focusing on their propensity for self-harm, suicide and severe depression, concentrates solely on their sexual health.
The survey, conducted by Stonewall, of 6,861 men is reported to be largest of its kind in the world, and found that nearly a third have had a negative experience with the NHS due to their sexuality. The levels of trust in confidentiality and openness were so low that an equal proportion of men were not even out to their regular GP or nurses, though they had no problem coming out to their colleagues at work.
In the year covered by the survey, 3% of gay men and 5% of bisexual men had tried to kill themselves, the proportion being 0.4% for all men. Similarly, self-harm rates among gay and bisexual men stood at 7% as opposed to 3% for men at large.
Broken down by age, mental health problems became more acute in the 16 to 24 age-group, wherein 6% had attempted suicide, and 15% committed self-harm. Half of the respondents also reported domestic abuse since the age of 18, where the general rate among men stood at 17%.
More worryingly, a third of those surveyed confessed to having never had an HIV test, and 54% never discussing HIV with a healthcare professional, despite early diagnosis being the top priority in public health. Of those who hadn’t been tested for HIV, 70% said it was because they thought they did not put themselves in the way of risks, the remainder because they had never experienced any symptoms of the infection.
One 23-year old respondent says: “I overheard the reception staff say to a nurse: ‘The poof is here for his appointment.’” Another said that his doctor wrote ‘homosexual’ in capital letters on a letter he had to take to hospital after breaking his wrist, a label which would appear every occasion his file came up. Many also reported that health professionals assumed they were HIV positive merely on account of their sexuality.
Describing these findings as “deeply troubling,” Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, said: “Patients accessing healthcare should be confident that they’ll be treated compassionately, confidentially and with complete openness. But this research reveals that for many gay and bisexual men in Britain this is simply not the case.”
The report is more scathing: “These figures raise grave concerns about the effectiveness with which hundreds of millions of pounds of public money have been spent on HIV awareness and prevention in recent years,” it reads. It also has a number of professional recommendations for the health care service, in order to make the health services more open and accessible to gay and bisexual men.